A growing number of single people are using the Internet as their personal Cupid, whether it's through online dating services, chat rooms or discussion groups. And many of them would never think of joining a traditional dating service or perusing the personal ads in a magazine or newspaper.
"I practically live online as it is. I mean, I got my job through Monster.com, and I buy my books at Amazon.com. I figured, why not try an online dating service?" says Sharon, 26, a web designer in Santa Monica, CA. She's not the only one who's signing up.
A recent poll by Yankelovich Partners shows that 61 percent of single people will use an Internet dating service this year. Match.com, one of the most popular of these services, has registered over 3,000,000 singles in search of love since its inception in 1995. The site boasts that it has spawned over 800 marriages and those marriages have so far resulted in 30 babies.
There's a good reason for the success of these services, says Trish McDermott, vice president of romance (yes, that's her title) at Match.com. "Single people today face a lack of access to other eligible single people," she observes. "They have more demanding jobs than ever, and less time to socialize. They're less likely to get married in college and more likely to move away from home and the people who once informally served as matchmakers. The Internet is an ideal tool for busy singles," she says, "since it's easily accessible, fast, and efficient."
But convenience isn't the only draw. In theory, the Internet can help you track down that perfect match more accurately than is possible in everyday life. Internet dating services routinely ask members to specify their preferred choices in everything from eye color to body type to religion, as well as other topics that would be downright rude to discuss on a first date, such as income level. But those topics are just for openers. "You can poll an enormous group of people to find someone who shares your interest in miniature Lithuanian schnauzers," says Esther Gwinnell, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in Portland, Oregon and author of Online Seduction (Kodansha, 1998).